- The Washington Times - Friday, January 13, 2006

ASSOCIATED PRESS

Scrutiny of possible sexual harassment at the U.S. Naval Academy has led to a “witch-hunt atmosphere,” according to the attorney of an academy professor who is facing charges of purportedly making sexually offensive remarks to a female midshipman.

The attorney for Lt. Bryan Black said in a military court hearing yesterday that pressure from Congress and the military on the Naval Academy superintendent to root out sexual harassment has led to a trumped-up case against his client.

“The superintendent does not want Lieutenant Black to have a fair trial,” said Charles Gittins, Lt. Black’s attorney, during a hearing at the Washington Navy Yard.

Lt. Black, an oceanography teacher at the academy, faces a court-martial for charges of conduct unbecoming an officer and other offenses. He is accused of making sexually explicit comments to a midshipman during the summer, referring to his and her anatomy while describing his admiration for a battleship.

Lt. Black also was accused of making explicit remarks about his ex-wife in front of midshipmen and using graphic language to describe exotic dancers.

Under military procedure, his court-martial will be heard by three officers appointed by academy Superintendent Vice Adm. Rodney Rempt. But Mr. Gittins argued the panel should be appointed by another commanding officer by another military command, arguing that Adm. Rempt is only pursuing the case because of pressure from the Naval Academy Board of Visitors and U.S. Sen. Barbara Mikulski, Maryland Democrat.

Mr. Gittins contends that since a military report last summer detailed cases of inappropriate treatment of women and hostile attitudes toward female midshipmen at the Naval Academy and the U.S. Military Academy, there has been inordinate sensitivity to purported sexual harassment at Annapolis.

But an attorney for the government said there is little proof that Adm. Rempt is bringing the case to prove he is taking action.

Lt. Charles Kisor said the charges against Lt. Black are serious and an exception among the faculty of the academy.

“There is not one shred of evidence that Admiral Rempt has a personal stake in the outcome,” Lt. Kisor said.

The incident purportedly took place while Lt. Black and midshipmen were on training missions in August. Midshipman Samantha Foxton testified that she, other midshipmen, and Lt. Black were walking near the USS Wisconsin battleship in Norfolk when Lt. Black made his comment.

In her statement to investigators, which Lt. Kisor read in court, Midshipman Foxton said she was “appalled,” and that she tried to change the subject. The next day Lt. Black apologized to her and she chose not to pursue any charges. But when a senior officer learned of the comment, the academy began an investigation.

Another midshipman testified that Lt. Black made similar comments throughout the off-campus training mission that lasted several weeks, including statements about strippers in Guam and derogatory comments about his ex-wife.

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